Orion's "All Charged Up" promotes robotics year round

Mindy Carls
Orion High School’s robotics team, All Charged Up, demonstrates the abilities of their robot, Steve 2.0, at Cambridge Public Library on Friday, April 15. From left, Maddie Greenwood watches Kaitlyn Greenwood, Eric Thorndyke and captain Colin Essary drive Steve 2.0 as he puts a green object on top of a tower.

All Charged Up!, the robotics team at Orion High School, doesn’t have an off season.

After competing at the state tournament in March, the team took its robot on the road. Steve 2.0 made appearances at area libraries in Orion and Cambridge, as well as at an Orion school board meeting where the members learned the name comes from “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”

The robot appeared in the Andover 185th + 1 Anniversary parade in 2020, and starred in a demonstration in Andover Lake Park following the parade. This summer Andover Days Past and Present had Steve 2.0 return for another demonstration.

Robots are backed by a team, which in 2021-22 included four girls and three boys — seniors Avery Monson, Mackinzie Washburn and Madison Greenwood, juniors Colin Essary and Eric Thorndyke and sophomores Micah Knox and Kaitlyn Greenwood.

Monson and Thorndyke were the team captains.

The team behind the team included coach Ray Parrish and assistant coach Tim Monson.

Mentors for 2021-22 included Christi Monson, Business and Outreach; Rick Hepner, Build and Design; and Arielle Monson, a 2020 graduate, and Jason Dennhardt, technology director, Riverdale school district, Programming.

Because robotics is not cheap, business sponsors were Arconic, John Deere and Charged Coffee and Cocoa Shop.

More: Girls in Orion help drive robotics team

Team members assigned to Build and Design were Monson and Essary, the leaders, and Washburn. They worked to create and improve the robot, and they served as its drivers during competitions.

Thorndyke led the programming team, which included Knox. They coded routines for the robot to use when operating on its own, and they used sensors to make the robot more reliable, consistent and functional.

The Greenwood sisters, with Madison as the leader, were the business team that handled outreach to the community, area organizations and businesses, and local robotics teams such as the three at Orion Middle School.

Orion Lions Club came to a meet at Orion High School and ran the concession stand, so All Charged Up! gave a presentation at a Lions Club meeting.

Charged Coffee and Cocoa created a drink, The Robot, and donated $1 per drink sold while it was available. The Robot included green apple and pineapple flavors with a splash of mango, fully charged with Monster Energy drink or zero charged with Sprite.

All Charged Up! competes in FIRST Tech Challenge for seventh through 12th graders. Every year in September the FTC organization announces a mission, and teams start deciding how to accomplish it.

The 2021-22 theme was “Freight Frenzy,” with the teams maneuvering their robot around barriers to pick up such as mini Wiffle balls, boxes and rubber ducks, in “warehouses” and deliver them to “shipping hubs” on a 12-foot by 12-foot foam tile field on the floor.

In competition, four robots are on the field at the same time — two teams cooperating in one alliance, two teams in the opposing alliance. Each match includes a 30-second autonomous period, with the robot following pre-programmed instructions and a 2-minute driver control period.

All Charged Up! is fortunate to have a practice field in the former computer lab next to the library in the heart of OHS. The team members are able to leave the field set up between practices. Their gear includes 3-D printers, tablets and a laptop.

And the robot, of course. With its arms extended, Steve 2.0 can reach 6 feet while lifting items. It has claws for gripping, a camera allowing it to identify items, a gyro to help it turn and GPS software to allow it to choose a path from one point to another.

All Charged Up! is one of 169 FIRST Tech Challenge teams in Illinois.

Orion competes in the Western Illinois League, which has eight teams — Orion, Riverdale, Moline, Rock Island, Kewanee, Fulton, Knoxville and Macomb. Some teams are sponsored by their schools, some by businesses and some by 4-H programs.

When competition began, All Charged Up! had an 8-14 record at five events. Regionals were Feb. 12, and Orion won the Motivate award and finished third for the Inspire award. The awards recognize teams that are strong ambassadors for FIRST programs.

For the third time in seven years, All Charged Up! qualified for state, which was held March 12 in Elgin.

At state, Orion was one of few school teams. Most were community teams.

All Charged Up! had five matches from 11:16 a.m. to 2:43 p.m. and lost all five to finish 34th among 36 teams. The day started with a tough match against an alliance of teams that went on to finish first and fourth.

For more information, follow All Charged Up! on Instagram, ohsrobots on Facebook or send e-mail to ohsrobots9189@gmail.com. Fans can follow All Charged Up! on https://www.twitch.tv/illinois_ftc and at https://old.firstillinoisrobotics.org/ftc/.